6 New York officials accused in plot to rig mayoral race

Posted on: 11:11 pm, April 2, 2013, by

NY Sen. Malcolm Smith

NEW YORK (CNN) — A New York state senator and a New York City councilman were among six people arrested Tuesday morning on charges that they schemed to fix the city’s 2013 mayoral election through fraud, bribery and extortion, according to federal prosecutors.

The United States Attorney’s Office announced charges of corruption against state Sen. Malcolm Smith and Councilman Dan Halloran, alleging that Smith, a Democrat, bribed Halloran, a Republican, to help him guarantee himself a spot on the Republican ballot in the city’s November election.

Authorities also arrested Bronx GOP Chairman Jay Savino and Queens Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, who prosecutors say agreed to support Smith’s bid in exchange for bribes, as well as two other politicians in nearby Spring Valley, New York, related to the plot.

“Today’s charges demonstrate, once again, that a show-me-the-money culture seems to pervade every level of New York government. The complaint describes an unappetizing smorgasbord of graft and greed involving six officials who together built a corridor of corruption stretching from Queens and the Bronx to Rockland County and all the way up to Albany itself,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference Tuesday.

CNN was unable to reach attorneys for the accused Tuesday afternoon. After an initial hearing, all six defendants were released on $250,000 personal recognizance bonds and surrendered their passports.

New York election law says that as a registered Democrat, Smith cannot run for New York City mayor as a Republican without the consent of three of the city’s five Republican Party county chairmen. That consent is commonly referred to as a “Wilson Pakula certificate.”

According to court documents, Smith, who has more than a decade of experience in the state Senate, met with an undercover FBI agent posing as a wealthy real estate investor in November. Smith asked the agent to contact county GOP leaders to persuade them to support his bid for the GOP mayoral candidacy.

Later that day, Halloran, a former New York police officer, met the agent at a restaurant in Queens. Halloran was already taking payments from the undercover agent as part of an unrelated sting. There, prosecutors say he agreed to act as a liaison for Smith, facilitating the bribes of county party leaders.

Halloran was to receive $20,500 in cash bribes and illegal campaign contributions. Combined, Tabone and Savino were to receive $80,000 in bribes.

A cooperating witness later asked Halloran if he could route discretionary funding from the City Council budget to other projects. Prosecutors say Halloran replied, “Not an issue,” before saying, “That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much. Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that. And they get like that because of the drive that the money does for everything else. You can’t do anything without the f—ing money.”

In one conversation described in the criminal complaint, the undercover agent told Smith it would cost “a pretty penny” to bribe the Republican leaders and asked Smith if he thought it worth it.

“It’s worth it. You know this is a pretty big deal,” Smith allegedly said.

Believing the undercover FBI agent and a cooperating witness were wealthy real estate investors, Smith promised them a half-million dollars in state transportation funding for a real estate project in Spring Valley if they agreed to pay the bribes for him, court documents said.

According to authorities, the undercover FBI agent and cooperating witness — still posing as real estate investors — met with Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret, who court documents allege conspired with the undercover FBI agent and cooperating witness to rig the sale of Spring Valley property in return for hidden interest in the real estate project for Jasmin and $10,500 in cash bribes for Desmaret.

“After the string of public corruption scandals that we have brought to light, many may rightly resign themselves to the sad truth that perhaps the most powerful special interest in politics is self-interest,” Bharara said Tuesday.

Smith’s spokesman said the senator “will be vindicated.”

“The Senator has record of 13 years of dedication, hard work and integrity to the people he serves in Queens. He has provided to the health, safety and well-being of the almost 20 million residents in New York. He will be vindicated when the all the facts in the case are revealed,” said a statement from Todd S. Shapiro.

Attempts to reach spokespersons for the other defendants were unsuccessful Tuesday.

“I take it very seriously, and they are serious allegations,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “We have zero tolerance for any violation of the public integrity and the public trust.”

If convicted, Smith and Halloran each face 45 years in prison. Tabone and Savino would face 20 years each, and Jasmin and Desmaret would both face 20 years, according to court documents.

CNN’s Mary Snow and Lorenzo Ferrigno contributed to this report